During the week 7 matchup against Dallas, the San Francisco 49ers made a peculiar change within the Safety corps: Eric Reid was moved to the weak side linebacker position (WLB) while S Jaquaski Tartt filled in at Strong Safety, Reid’s position to start the season. After Reid went down with an ankle injury earlier in the season, Tartt moved from filling in for S Jimmie Ward at Free Safety to covering Reid’s spot at SS. It seems DC Robert Saleh and HC Kyle Shanahan liked what they saw from Tartt during Raid’s absence.
When asked about this changeup, Shanahan was adamant in saying the change was merely to get the best possible combination of 11 players on the field at once. Was this the easiest way to do it? Let’s take a look.
The release of LB NaVorro Bowman is probably what threw the biggest wrench into Shanahan and GM John Lynch’s plans for this season. By all accounts, this was going to be Bowman’s final year with the 49ers, and according to a few reports, had LB Malcolm Smith not torn his pectoral before the season started, he and LB Reuben Foster would’ve been the starters to start the season.
For just a second, think about a rotation of Jimmie Ward, Reid, and Tartt rotating amongst the S corps, and Smith, Foster, Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong rotating amongst the MIKE and WILL linebacker positions. I know Shanahan, Lynch and Saleh would’ve killed for that kind of depth, rotation and ratio of youth to experience. Sadly, things don’t always turn out how you expect.
So now that Bowman is no longer with us, Saleh and Shanahan likely looked at the make up of the roster and saw how thin the LB corps depth is right now. The team had also released Austin Calitro, who was picked up off waivers by Seattle. The team does not want to rely on Brock Coyle if they can help it, so asking Reid to move over and handle the WLB spot isn’t that big of a stretch. As Strong Safety, his assignments mainly added up to covering the LOS and hitting big. A lot of Reid’s shortcomings in previous seasons came when asking him to fall back into coverage. He’s not a speedy type of guy and asking him to stay up top of the defense and cover speedy receivers was a disservice to Reid’s talents.
So why Reid and not Tartt? Saleh has spoken a number of times about the versatility of Tartt and how much he has improved. Seeing the kind of improvement Saleh has seen in Tartt is somewhat rare, and Tartt’s PFF scores give a numerical representation of those improvements as well. Seeing as Tartt has mainly played “MoneyBacker”, a hybrid SafetyLinebacker role popularized by the Arizona Cardinals. Tartt (to our knowledge) has never been asked to play WLB. Saleh and Shanahan probably think its easier to ask Reid to learn and step into this role than it is to ask Tartt to learn yet another role. Reid is smart enough to be able to pick it up quick, and being sidelined with his injury, likely meant that he had time to work with Saleh while sitting and learning the playbook. By no means do I consider it an indictment of Reid’s performances thus far. Rather a product of circumstance and trying to keep the future pieces of this team (FosterArmstrong/Tartt) as healthy as possible this season.
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